Father's day

11th February 2005 at 00:00
Michael Cook is forced to confront his demons

This week the children are thinking about Africa. They craft a careful recreation of the African village from Eileen Browne's book, Handa's Hen. I help two girls fashion the eponymous chicken from a Smarties tube and some mustardy fabric. Then we all hide our disappointment. It looks more like a huge yellow helter-skelter with a beak, looming menacingly over Handa (clothes peg wrapped in a handkerchief) and her house (empty box of dishwasher tablets, painted brown, roofed in rabbit bedding).

Next we make African jewellery. I painstakingly poke hairy hunks of wool through a dozen tiny needles so the children can cheerfully thread pieces of plastic all the way along the wool, and straight off the other end. I sweep up, tie huge clumsy knots with my huge clumsy fingers and we try again.

Which gets me thinking about Africa. I think of the documentary I saw on BBC2, where happy-go-lucky explorer Bruce spends a month with a tribe of Gabonese forest people. Bruce learns the strange ways of the tribe. He builds a shack. He hunts monkeys. During an intense religious ceremony, he takes psychotropic drugs, vomits on the floor of a mud hut, and confronts his inner demons (Western materialist guilt; long-forgotten relationship angst ) during a three-day nightmare of hallucinations and warped reality.

And I start to feel Bruce is a lot like me.

OK, infant school isn't the same as a remote village of hunter-gatherers.

Here, monkey murder is largely frowned upon. Religious ceremony is confined to a chat from the vicar in assembly. The strongest narcotic buzz is putting two spoons of Nescafe in your playtime cuppa. But I still feel like an anthropologist every time I enter the strange world of these little people and try to impose my preoccupation with tying knots. And in class, I have inner demons of my own to confront.

Like when my numeracy group tackle tens and units with Unifix blocks, and resolve that the pair with the largest total will be winners. In the interests of fairness, I decide to give them all extra blocks so each pair has the same final total.

My inner demon: how many blocks? I'm doing sums! With tens and units! In my head! With an audience! I'm not like Bruce at all. Western materialist guilt be damned. Can't someone fetch me a calculator?

Michael Cook is a freelance copywriter and a parent helper at Ernehale infants school, Arnold, Nottingham, which his children, Alfie and Poppy, attend

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